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The unlikely allies who ousted Netanyahu

Israel’s new PM, Naftali Bennett. Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

It’s the end of an era, says Mehul Srivastava in the Financial Times: Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year “reign” as Israeli prime minister is over. After two years of political deadlock, an eight-party coalition that spans the political spectrum was sworn into government last Sunday. They don’t agree on much, besides wanting “Bibi” out of office. If you add in his three-year stint as PM in the 1990s, Netanyahu has ruled Israel for a fifth of the state’s existence, and it was richer and safer than it ever has been under his “pugnacious” premiership. He signed more peace treaties with Arab nations than any previous PM and oversaw the world’s fastest Covid vaccination campaign.

Netanyahu also blocked Palestinian statehood at every turn, fanning the flames of anti-Arab racism for his political advantage. But it was palace intrigue that did for him in the end, says Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz. Four of the eight ruling parties are headed by men Netanyahu mentored, then “cast aside” in favour of “sycophantic retainers”. Israel’s parliament is dominated by politicians who share his right-wing views – but his betrayals turned many into “bitter enemies”.

Among his foes is Naftali Bennett, who was once so close to Bibi that he named his eldest son after Netanyahu’s brother Yoni. He will be Israel’s PM for the next two years under the coalition’s power-sharing arrangement. The 49-year-old is Israel’s first religiously observant prime minister – a tiny skullcap perches on his bald head “with the help of two-sided tape”. A former commando and tech entrepreneur worth £6m, who supports annexing the West Bank, this “hard-liner” is far more pragmatic than his public image suggests.

He’ll need that pragmatism in spades, says Akiva Eldar in Al Jazeera. The fragile coalition, headed by Bennett and the centrist Yair Lapid, includes religious Jewish nationalists and pro-LGBT left-wing groups. It’s also the first Israeli government to include an Arab-Israeli party. They’re trying to focus on uncontroversial issues such as fixing Israel’s infrastructure, but division is inevitable. On foreign policy, Bennett will be stuck between a Biden administration keen to negotiate a new nuclear deal with Iran and Netanyahu on the opposition benches, who will accuse the government of “abandoning the Jewish people to a second Holocaust” if they go along with it.

It’s not all bad, says Bret Stephens in The New York Times. Israel has finally moved past the “demagogy” and “sleaziness” that defined the Netanyahu era. And the sight of such a politically diverse government putting aside principles for the good of their country is heartening. It’s a lesson for other western democracies “gripped by partisanship and paralysis”: if Jews and Arabs, the secular and the ultra-religious, can come together, what excuse does anyone else have?